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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: March 2016

7 - Transition from authoritarianism


The previous chapters explained how authoritarianism managed to exist for such a long time, and how deeply entrenched it became in the Arab republics. In December 2010, the first spark of popular resistance to these autocratic regimes flared up in Tunisia. By 2012, six of these republics had experienced dramatic changes, and in five of them dictatorship did not survive. In Iraq, as a result of the US-led invasion, Saddam Hussein's regime had been toppled in 2003 after more than three decades. The Arab uprisings led to the fall of Tunisia's Ben 'Ali, Egypt's Mubarak, and Yemen's 'Ali 'Abdullah Salih. With the help of an international coalition, Qaddafi's rule over Libya came to an end. In Syria, a civil war is raging with no end in sight as of late 2015, and it is unclear whether the rule of the Asad dynasty will cease.

The uprisings demonstrated that the Arab region is similar to other parts of the world where dictators were overthrown by spontaneous pressure from the streets, and the grip of tyranny unraveled in a matter of weeks. However, the same question that faced former Soviet Bloc countries now faces the Arab republics: what is the trajectory of these uprisings, and how will a transition to a more liberal system, if achieved, shape their futures? Political scientists have conducted interesting comparative research about the resilience of former Soviet republics and Arab countries that underline the importance of economic factors under dictatorship and during transition periods. As Samuel Huntington indicated, countries transitioning to democracy have to cope with transitional problems such as “the legacy of authoritarianism and establishing effective control of the military.” Furthermore, there are specific problems “endemic to specific countries.”

This chapter will address some of the general burning issues that continue to confront these countries on their troubled path to post-authoritarianism. National variations notwithstanding, there are numerous common challenges that they need to tackle in order to rid themselves of tyranny. The many urgent problems can be addressed under three general sections: first, institutions, governance, and the role of religion; second, economic topics such as corruption, inequality, and the brain drain; and third, the sensitive questions of accountability, reconciliation, overhaul of the security apparatus, and the role of the military.